It is impossible to watch Janice Garrett and Charles Moulton's intricate choreography without thinking of numbers. One composer. Two choreographers. Four musicians. Six dancers. Eight movements to the dance. A grid of four rows and six columns stretches across the back wall. Each square of the grid is twelve by twelve -- graph paper, blown up wall-sized. At the center of each square is a hand sketched by Moulton (five fingers to each hand, twenty-four hands, one hundred twenty digits). I did not count the tiles that line the floor of the atrium at the Jewish Community Center, where the company performs A Show of Hands, free and open to the public, six times October 17-26, to a vigorous score by Dan Becker performed by the Friction Quartet, nor did I count the audience members who sat in folding chairs or at tables at the Center's café or pressed their hands and faces to the glass barriers looking down from the second floor, but Garrett, who has a degree in mathematics from Stanford, and Moulton, whose Precision Ball Passing is a brainteaser for nine to 244 brains, might have known at a glance.
A Show of Hands announces itself as a dance about "touch, gesture, and the infinite expressive powers and possibilities of the human hand." With twenty-seven bones in each hand, or more than a quarter of the 206 bones in the human body, there's no doubt that the hand can be more articulate than the face or, in the case of much dance, the greater trochanters. This comes through particularly well in the Chaplinesque duet for Dudley Flores and Nol Simonse, two prisoners hanging from unseen manacles, gesticulating with the exaggerated emphasis of silent film. Another striking moment has the entire ensemble arranged, pyramid style, on wooden boxes, moving in unison through a rapid-fire series of gestures, reminiscent of the movement choir in Garrett and Moulton's spectacular 2010 work, The Illustrated Book of Invisible Stories.
However, the speed and strict geometry of the dances, the precision and athleticism of the dancers, seemed at other moments to work against the intentions of the piece. The rapid shifts only allow glimpses of inchoate emotion to emerge and then recede. The shapes most strongly presented are in the abstract lines of the human figure. The use of the hands was most prominent in the moments when dancers held their hands near each other without actually touching, when Troy Macklin hovered his tented fingers millimeters from Tegan Schwab's chest, when the partnering used forearms and elbows as points of contact. These moments read as negative space, reminding viewers not of the expression of the hands but of their use -- in lifts, in the pizzicato of Otis Harriel on violin, in the silencing of the bows as Kevin Rogers, Harriel, and violist Clio Tilton are gently laid out on the floor next to their instruments.
Garrett + Moulton Productions presents A Show of Hands October 17-26 at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 3200 California St, S.F. Admission is free. Visit garrettmoulton.org for more information.